The Round Table is King Arthur’s famed table in the Arthurian legend, around which he and his Knights congregate. As its name suggests, it has no head, implying that everyone who sits there has equal status. The table was first described in 1155 by Wace, who relied on previous depictions of Arthur’s fabulous retinue. The symbolism of the Round Table developed over time; by the close of the 12th century it had come to represent the chivalric order associated with Arthur’s court.
During the Middle Ages festivals called Round Tables were celebrated throughout Europe in imitation of Arthur’s court. These events featured jousting, dancing, and feasting, and in some cases attending knights assumed the identities of Arthur’s knights. The earliest of these was held in Cyprus in 1223 to celebrate a knighting. Round Tables were popular in various European countries through the rest of the Middle Ages and were at times very elaborate; René of Anjou even erected an Arthurian castle for his 1446 Round Table.
The artifact known as the “Winchester Round Table,” a large tabletop hanging in Winchester Castle bearing the names of various knights of Arthur’s court, was probably created for a Round Table tournament. The current paintwork is late; it was done by order of Henry VIII of England for Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s 1522 state visit, and depicts Henry himself sitting in Arthur’s seat above a Tudor rose. The table itself is considerably older, dating perhaps to the reign of Edward I. Edward was an Arthurian enthusiast who attended at least five Round Tables and hosted one himself in 1299, which may have been the occasion for the creation of the Winchester Round Table